In China, what you see is what you get, and what you get is often not the full story.
Our case in point: the woman who heckled China's President Hu Jintao Thursday during his visit to the White House. Americans saw her protest about China's crackdown on the Falun Gong religion.
The Falun Gong are especially frightening to China's Communist leaders because Falun Gong is an organization able to mobilize tens of thousands. The Communist Party wants to make sure there is only one such organization in China: that would be the Communist Party.
So they are a bit, shall we say, hypersensitive, about Falun Gong.
Which is why the 1.3 billion Chinese who happened to watch Chinese TV or read the government-controlled press might be excused for knowing nothing about the protest - because the official press did not report it.
The government's censors struggled valiantly to black out CNN and BBC satellite feeds into China that showed the woman. This happens with some frequency whenever foreign broadcasters air unflattering stories about China: they get blocked. Foreign broadcasters know better than to try and feed such stories OUT of China, because the censor at the satellite uplink will push his "go to black" switch.
So you can read the whole story of Hu's visit in the English-language China Daily and see - not a single word about the protest.
Indeed, next to a large front page picture of Hu and Mr. Bush, is a story giving exquisite detail about the welcoming ceremony, which we quote: "…a 21 gun salute as national anthems played and a fife-and-drum corps paraded on a bright spring day."
The story goes on to talk about how the U.S. President asked his Chinese counterpart for help restarting talks about North Korea's nuclear program.
To get the official Chinese version, you can always go to Xinhua's English language website for an update on the Hu visit:
How about the Falun Gong protest? Sorry, there's no mention of it.
The Great Wall of China's censorship does have a Great Big Hole: the Internet. There are plenty of websites - mostly American – which are both accessible to Chinese and are carrying the story, including video of the protest.
Which ones, you ask? Well, if I told you that, the censors would quickly go there and block the sites. Let's just say one Report rhymes with 'sludge,' and the others include certain broadcast networks and major newspapers in cities like New York.
Which is the reality of the world we live in, and the frustration of China's government censors.
Sorry, but I don't feel in the least bit sorry for them. As one observer said, they're like that storybook kid who tried so hard to stop an oncoming flood, by stopping up a hole in the dike.
That was so last century. And so hopeless.
By Barry Petersen